While writing this learning autobiography, I began to understand how my experiences of different pedagogical approaches in my childhood impacted and continue to impact me. Upon reflection, I have realized that only my experiences of Mathematics and English are securely tucked away in my long-term memory, so this autobiography will focus on those subjects.
I learned Mathematics constructively. Once I had a secure understanding of number place value, I built on that knowledge. At home, my parents where, as Vygotsky describes in his theory The Zone of Proximal development, the most knowledgeable others (MKO) (Lloyd & Fernyhough, 1999, p.283). They taught me how to use number bonds to solve mental arithmetic.
My parents applied the behaviourist theory to ensure I behaved accordingly. I practiced my mental mathematical strategies and was positively reinforced. My confidence grew and my behaviour was refined (Pavlov 1927, cited in Bandura, 1977, p.172). I sought mental arithmetic whenever, and wherever, possible. I remember sitting at the dinner table, pleading for more challenging questions and requesting to see if I was faster than my older siblings. I was in control. I was learning what I wanted to learn (Kay, 2001, p.120). It was working. I was progressing.
Following our successes and failures, my siblings and I were asked to reflect by verbally explaining our methods (Concept to classroom, 2004). In Freire’s Critical Consciousness Theory (2013, p.41), he suggests I would have learned from this because I had to explain the process of how I got to the answers and ‘explaining my thinking helped me to understand how my knowledge was connected’. Therefore, reflection enabled me to construct knowledge at greater depth, allowing me to complete mental arithmetic using a range of strategies.
This learning soon lay the foundations for the development of my written arithmetic, allowing my maths to become secure throughout my school career. (Haylock & Manning, 2014). This positive experience supports May and Carrs’ Te Whariki theory (Bates, 2015, p.244), on the importance and impact of home learning and the role of parents in pupils’ learning.
I naturally liked using a method to solve questions, but without constant nurturing in a supportive home environment, I doubt I would have had the same enthusiasm and success. This is because, for the majority of the time, my school was a more formal, unemotive and unstimulating experience. Maths at school followed the differentiated learning theory (Burkett, 2008, cited in James & Pollard, 2006, p.58).
Teachers’ considered my knowledge and I was grouped in an ability set with differentiated work. As I climbed Bruner’s suggested spiral curriculum (Harden, 1999, p.141) concrete and visual resources recommended by Kolb (Pritchard, 2009, p.26) were quickly replaced with abstract learning. Luckily, as a result of simultaneous support at home, I could reason mathematics using all approaches, so I achieved mastery (NCETM). However, the same cannot be said for English.
Two areas of English pedagogy affected my progress. The first was the absence of emphasis on spoken language development. I rarely actively participated in group work or discussion. Time was spent being told to ‘sit down and be quiet’. In Key stage 1, I presented show and tells, but the perceived importance of these sessions soon deteriorated. In Key Stage 2, there was only sporadic group work.
This pedagogical approach meant I didn’t practice, so I didn’t feel confident answering and reasoning publicly. In turn, I didn’t get acknowledged and my self-esteem didn’t increase (Dallimore, Herternstein & Platt, 2004). Moreover, learning is a process of gathering and connecting all the pieces of the puzzle, so public speaking was a skill that I needed to learn to be a successful social communicator once I had left education (Dewey, cited in Bates, 2015, p.44 ).
The consequences of my teachers’ beliefs and practices shaped my present behaviour as I still question my ability to answer and reason publicly among peers, I am constantly aware of the importance of implementing social learning in my pedagogy (Guardian, 2017). The second reason was because of most of my teachers’ lack of desire, and/or knowledge on how to teach to me to read for pleasure. I eventually learned to read (my dad still jokes that I can’t), but I didn’t learn to be a reader. Nowhere near in fact. My engagement in books was never facilitated. As suggested by Caine (2005), unmeaningful books, that I couldn’t choose but that I was told I had to read, disengaged me.
Furthermore, I remember being positively punished, because of my inability. On regular occasions, I was unable to read the amount set in the lesson and it was perceived that I was misbehaving, rather than struggling, so I was told to read an extra chapter that night (Chance & Karause, 2009, p.209). These two pedagogical approaches ensured I quickly associated reading with boredom and punishment, a universe away from any magical world; I would remain a muggle.
Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy; my teachers knew I couldn’t read very well, so maybe they had low expectations and for a long time, I successfully fulfilled them. As Plato suggested, I had a ‘map’ of ingrained behaviour, so why would my teachers try and change it? (Bates, 2018, p.10) Thankfully, my year 6 teacher was critical of Plato’s theory. As Bandura’s Role Modelling theory stresses, Ms. Joseph believed in herself, and me (Bates, 2019, p.52) In her vibrant, engaging classroom, I was extrinsically motivated. My lack of ability was not perceived as failing and she repeatedly ensured I was part of immediate interventions (Leonard, 2002, 175). Ms. Joseph was constantly formatively assessing me, rather than waiting until the end of the lesson and assuming I was rebelling.
The interventions were fun and engaging because my learning was scaffolded with creative and meaningful, visual and kinaesthetic aids, such as models of the World Cup. As Vygotsky suggests, these scaffolds were effective because they motivated me and extended my activities where I could not accomplish them alone (Taylor & MacKenny, 2008, p.162). This pedagogy ensured I learned at the same speed as the class and, just as importantly, built my confidence.
I will never forget Ms. Joseph, and although her pedagogical approaches were far more effective at enabling me to progress academically, I feel she was so significant because, as Maya Angelou stated, ‘people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. I will always remember how safe, happy and motivated I felt in her classroom. This allowed me to shine.
As suggested in the constructivism theory (Leonard, 2002, p.39), the knowledge I received from reading formed foundations and enabled links to learning in the other three stands of English: spoken language, writing and spelling/grammar/punctuation. Soon, I could access the learning and it wasn’t too challenging, so I didn’t give up; I continued to progress.
Overall, with only a couple of positive experiences with MKOs, I attribute my progress across the curriculum to an element Dweck’s (2017) book Mindsets. My parents and my year 4 teacher always praised and celebrated my effort, rather than my academic achievements. The only expectation was I tried my very best and this motivated me to try my hardest in every subject.
As stated in an earlier adverb, I feel that I was lucky to have this support at home. Looking back, having had a predominantly unpastoral school experience, I wonder, If I hadn’t had the support at home, whether I would be writing this piece, or able to write this piece. Therefore, for the many pupils’ that don’t have a positive home environment, and the ones who do, I must emulate Ms. Joseph and embed nurturing, creative, meaningful, active, fun, inclusive and reflective pedagogy in my practice.